Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times OP-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd officially launched the Ballinrobe Town Heritage Walk last week. Dowd, whose grandfather hails from Ballinrobe, visited the town last Tuesday to lay a wreath at the statue of John King in Cornmarket and formally launch the town’s first heritage walk.
The influential columnist, whose links to Ballinrobe go back to the 1800s, also attended a civic reception held at Turlough House by Mayo County Council the night before the launch.
Ms Dowd, her sister, Peggy, and Niall O’Dowd, founder of the weekly newspaper Irish Voice, the magazine Irish America and website IrishCentral.com, were welcomed to the launch by Ger Delaney of the South Mayo Family Research Centre.
At the event Mr Delaney presented Ms Dowd and her sister with a record of their family’s Meeneghan lineage. Mr Delaney said he was ‘delighted to present the documents to the Dowds after digging through records to find the Meeneghan link’.
After laying a wreath at the statue of John King, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour on two occasions, Dowd expressed her appreciation at being given the honour. “My mother would have been so proud if she knew of the honour you have bestowed on us today,” she said.
Ms Dowd explained that although she never met her grandfather, Martin Meeneghan, he was ‘a special person’. Ms Dowd did get to meet some of her relatives in Ballinrobe that are still alive, however.
Averil Staunton, curator of historicalballinrobe.com and creator of the leaflet that accompanies the heritage walk, addressed the crowd describing Ballinrobe as a ‘wall-less museum’, with over 30 sites mentioned in the leaflet.
Staunton expressed her passion for the town, despite ‘still being a blow-in after 40 years’.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Cllr Michael Burke explained how he had met Ms Dowd in 2010 at a St Patrick’s Day reception in New York honouring the columnist and hotelier John Fitzpatrick.
“Having heard that there were people from Ballinrobe at the event, Maureen was keen to speak to us and expressed an interest in visiting in the future,” explained Cllr Burke.
The wheels were then set in motion when National University of Ireland, Galway, decided to confer Ms Dowd with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature.
“Once we heard about NUIG we thought it would be the prefect opportunity to extend an invite to Maureen and her sister Peggy,” said Cllr Burke, who hopes that the visit will cement ties between Ballinrobe and the distinguished columnist.
Cllr Burke extended his gratitude to the Ballinrobe Community Development Council for organising the event at short notice and to all involved in Ms Dowd’s visit.
Following from the launch, the Dowd sisters and Niall O’Dowd attended the Ballinrobe Races where the second race was aptly named after Maureen and Peggy’s parents, The Michael and Peggy Dowd Memorial Handicap.
Ms Dowd’s career, which spans four decades, includes coverage of four presidential campaigns as well as sports coverage, feature writing and metropolitan reporting. Cllr Burke and Averil Staunton said that they hoped that her visit would make people more aware of the town’s heritage and encourage people to ‘capture the past before it disappears’.
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